How Does Unsplash Make Money? The Unsplash Business Model In A Nutshell

Unsplash is a Canadian stock photography platform founded by Mikael Cho in 2013, as he was unable to source high-quality stock images for his freelance website Crew, he got the idea to create a platform where others could freely download stocked images. Advertising is the sole source of revenue for Unsplash. Some of the companies utilizing this service include Google, Le Creuset, Square, and Harley-Davidson.

Business Model ElementAnalysisImplicationsExamples
Value PropositionUnsplash’s value proposition includes: – Free High-Quality Images: Providing a vast library of professional-quality photos that users can download and use for various purposes without cost. – Accessibility: Offering an easy-to-use platform that allows individuals and businesses to find and use images for their projects. – Community and Collaboration: Building a community of photographers and creatives who share their work and collaborate on projects. Unsplash delivers a valuable resource for designers, marketers, and content creators, making it easy to access high-quality images for their projects.Attracts a wide range of users seeking free and high-quality imagery. Enables easy access to a diverse collection of images for various purposes. Fosters a sense of community and collaboration among photographers and creatives. Provides a valuable resource in the design and content creation industries. Establishes a strong value proposition in the stock photography market.– A vast library of free, high-quality images. – User-friendly platform for image search and download. – A community of photographers and creatives.
Customer SegmentsUnsplash serves the following customer segments: 1. Designers and Creatives: Professionals and enthusiasts looking for images to use in web design, marketing, and creative projects. 2. Small Businesses: Companies with limited budgets seeking quality visuals for their marketing materials. 3. Bloggers and Content Creators: Individuals and bloggers in need of compelling visuals for their articles and content. 4. Developers and App Builders: Developers integrating Unsplash’s API into their applications for image integration. Unsplash caters to a diverse range of users in need of free, high-quality images.Attracts designers and creatives seeking visual assets for projects. Provides a cost-effective solution for small businesses with limited budgets. Offers compelling visuals for bloggers and content creators. Serves developers looking to integrate images into applications via the Unsplash API. Targets a broad user base with varied image needs.– Designers and creatives in need of visuals. – Small businesses with budget constraints. – Bloggers and content creators for articles and posts. – Developers incorporating Unsplash images into apps.
Distribution StrategyUnsplash’s distribution strategy includes: – Online Platform: Offering a user-friendly website and mobile app where users can search, browse, and download images. – API Integration: Providing an API for developers to integrate Unsplash’s image library into their applications and platforms. – Partnerships: Collaborating with platforms, such as Adobe, to extend the reach and accessibility of Unsplash images. – Community Engagement: Encouraging photographers and contributors to share their work on the platform. Unsplash uses its platform, API, partnerships, and community engagement to distribute its vast collection of images.Provides a convenient online platform for users to access and download images. Extends its reach through API integration with various applications. Collaborates with partners to expand the accessibility of Unsplash images. Engages photographers and contributors to continually grow its image library. Implements a multifaceted distribution strategy to reach a wide audience.– User-friendly website and mobile app for image access. – API for developers to integrate Unsplash images. – Partnerships with platforms like Adobe. – A community of photographers and contributors.
Revenue StreamsUnsplash generates revenue through the following channels: 1. Licensing and Marketplace: Offering a premium subscription service called Unsplash Pro, which provides access to additional features, such as advanced search and analytics. 2. Custom Licensing: Providing options for businesses and individuals to license specific images for commercial use. 3. API Pricing: Charging developers and businesses for API access, with pricing based on usage and features. Unsplash generates income from premium subscriptions, custom licensing, and API usage fees while keeping the core image library free to use.Earns revenue from premium subscriptions for enhanced features. Generates income from custom licensing for commercial image use. Charges developers and businesses for API access based on usage. Maintains a balance between free access and premium services to support the platform. Establishes multiple revenue streams within its image-sharing platform.– Revenue from Unsplash Pro premium subscriptions. – Income from custom licensing of images. – API fees charged to developers and businesses.
Marketing StrategyUnsplash’s marketing strategy involves: – Word of Mouth: Leveraging its reputation and user satisfaction to drive organic growth and word-of-mouth referrals. – Content Marketing: Creating blog posts and articles that offer insights, inspiration, and tips related to photography and design. – Social Media: Sharing user-generated content and engaging with the creative community on platforms like Instagram and Twitter. – Community Engagement: Encouraging photographers and contributors to actively participate and share their work on Unsplash. Unsplash focuses on organic growth, content marketing, social media, and community engagement to promote its platform and expand its user base.Relies on its reputation and user satisfaction for organic growth. Creates valuable content to engage and educate its target audience. Utilizes social media to showcase user-generated content and connect with the community. Encourages active participation from photographers and contributors. Implements a marketing strategy aligned with its user-focused approach.– Reputation-driven organic growth and referrals. – Blog content offering photography insights. – Active presence on social media platforms. – Engagement of photographers and contributors.
Organization StructureUnsplash’s organizational structure includes: – Leadership Team: Executives responsible for strategic decisions and platform management. – Product and Technology Team: Engineers, designers, and developers working on platform enhancements and mobile app development. – Community Team: Engaging with photographers, contributors, and users to foster community growth. – Marketing and Content Team: Creating marketing campaigns, content, and social media engagement strategies. Unsplash maintains an organized structure to support its mission of providing free, high-quality imagery to a global user base.Led by an executive team responsible for strategic decisions. Employs technology experts to enhance the platform and app. Engages a community team to foster a sense of belonging among users. Utilizes marketing and content teams to promote the platform and engage with users. Maintains an organized structure to support its mission and business model.– Executive team for strategic leadership. – Product and tech team for platform development. – Community team for user engagement. – Marketing and content team for promotion.



Origin Story

Unsplash is a Canadian stock photography platform founded by Mikael Cho in 2013.

The idea for Unsplash came about after Cho was unable to source high-quality stock images for his freelance website Crew. After hiring a photographer, Cho posted the unwanted photos from the photoshoot online and invited others to use them as desired. The platform – at the time a humble Tumblr blog – saw 50,000 views on its first day of operation.

Unsplash then moved to its own website in September 2014 after surpassing 1 million downloads per month. The company partnered with Apple to furnish Apple stores with images sourced directly from Unsplash galleries. An API launched soon after, allowing third-party app developers like Trello to incorporate Unsplash images.

Crew was eventually sold to Dribble in 2017, giving Cho the funds and time to focus solely on Unsplash. An iOS app was released soon after.

In July 2020, Unsplash hit 2 million contributions from 200,000 global contributors. The platform now employs a team of editors and curators to sift through the large volume of photo submissions.

Unsplash was acquired by Getty Images for an undisclosed sum in March 2021. Operations will continue as a standalone brand with Cho at the helm.

Unsplash revenue generation

Advertising is the sole source of revenue for Unsplash. Some of the companies utilizing this service include Google, Le Creuset, Square, and Harley-Davidson.

Through its Unsplash for Brands feature, companies can advertise on the platform and take advantage of the viral nature of online imagery. The company claims its images are downloaded more than the similar services of Getty Images, Shutterstock, and Adobe combined.

Unsplash stipulates that ads on its platform must be contextual and add value to the user experience. Ads are shown on related photo category pages or the advertiser can upload their own images and have them appear under relevant search terms. Brands choosing the latter option tap into a powerful form of advertising, as images are downloaded and repurposed in blog reposts, reports, or presentations.

In addition to collecting advertising revenue, Unsplash will also create authentic, high-quality imagery for each advertising campaign. Boxed Water is an example of a company that commissioned Unsplash photographers to create product photos in fun and engaging contexts.

At the time of writing, Unsplash for Brands is invite-only.

Key takeaways:

  • Unsplash is a Canadian stock photography platform founded in 2013 by Mikael Cho. He got the idea for the company after having difficulty sourcing high-quality photographs for his freelancer website Crew.
  • Unsplash earns revenue through contextual and organic advertising. It has worked with brands such as Harley-Davidson, Le Creuset, and Google. The company also charges companies if they require high-quality images for an advertising campaign.
  • Unsplash claims its advertising platform is five times more effective than TV and digital media. Brands may choose to advertise by uploading their own photographs, which are then shared across the internet.

Read Also: How Does Canva Make Money, How Does Pinterest Work And Make Money, How Does Instacart Make Money.

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Related Business Model Types

Platform Business Model

A platform business model generates value by enabling interactions between people, groups, and users by leveraging network effects. Platform business models usually comprise two sides: supply and demand. Kicking off the interactions between those two sides is one of the crucial elements for a platform business model success.

Marketplace Business Model

A marketplace is a platform where buyers and sellers interact and transact. The platform acts as a marketplace that will generate revenues in fees from one or all the parties involved in the transaction. Usually, marketplaces can be classified in several ways, like those selling services vs. products or those connecting buyers and sellers at B2B, B2C, or C2C level. And those marketplaces connecting two core players, or more.

Network Effects

A network effect is a phenomenon in which as more people or users join a platform, the more the value of the service offered by the platform improves for those joining afterward.

Asymmetric Business Models

In an asymmetric business model, the organization doesn’t monetize the user directly, but it leverages the data users provide coupled with technology, thus have a key customer pay to sustain the core asset. For example, Google makes money by leveraging users’ data, combined with its algorithms sold to advertisers for visibility.

Attention Merchant Business Model

In an asymmetric business model, the organization doesn’t monetize the user directly, but it leverages the data users provide coupled with technology, thus having a key customer pay to sustain the core asset. For example, Google makes money by leveraging users’ data, combined with its algorithms sold to advertisers for visibility. This is how attention merchants make monetize their business models.

Wholesale Business Model

The wholesale model is a selling model where wholesalers sell their products in bulk to a retailer at a discounted price. The retailer then on-sells the products to consumers at a higher price. In the wholesale model, a wholesaler sells products in bulk to retail outlets for onward sale. Occasionally, the wholesaler sells direct to the consumer, with supermarket giant Costco the most obvious example.

Retail Business Model

A retail business model follows a direct-to-consumer approach, also called B2C, where the company sells directly to final customers a processed/finished product. This implies a business model that is mostly local-based, it carries higher margins, but also higher costs and distribution risks.


A B2B2C is a particular kind of business model where a company, rather than accessing the consumer market directly, it does that via another business. Yet the final consumers will recognize the brand or the service provided by the B2B2C. The company offering the service might gain direct access to consumers over time.

Crowdsourcing Business Model

The term “crowdsourcing” was first coined by Wired Magazine editor Jeff Howe in a 2006 article titled Rise of Crowdsourcing. Though the practice has existed in some form or another for centuries, it rose to prominence when eCommerce, social media, and smartphone culture began to emerge. Crowdsourcing is the act of obtaining knowledge, goods, services, or opinions from a group of people. These people submit information via social media, smartphone apps, or dedicated crowdsourcing platforms.

Open-Core Business Model

While the term has been coined by Andrew Lampitt, open-core is an evolution of open-source. Where a core part of the software/platform is offered for free, while on top of it are built premium features or add-ons, which get monetized by the corporation who developed the software/platform. An example of the GitLab open core model, where the hosted service is free and open, while the software is closed.

Open Source vs. Freemium

Open source is licensed and usually developed and maintained by a community of independent developers. While the freemium is developed in-house. Thus the freemium give the company that developed it, full control over its distribution. In an open-source model, the for-profit company has to distribute its premium version per its open-source licensing model.

Freemium Business Model

The freemium – unless the whole organization is aligned around it – is a growth strategy rather than a business model. A free service is provided to a majority of users, while a small percentage of those users convert into paying customers through the sales funnel. Free users will help spread the brand through word of mouth.

Freeterprise Business Model

A freeterprise is a combination of free and enterprise where free professional accounts are driven into the funnel through the free product. As the opportunity is identified the company assigns the free account to a salesperson within the organization (inside sales or fields sales) to convert that into a B2B/enterprise account.

Franchising Business Model

In a franchained business model (a short-term chain, long-term franchise) model, the company deliberately launched its operations by keeping tight ownership on the main assets, while those are established, thus choosing a chain model. Once operations are running and established, the company divests its ownership and opts instead for a franchising model.

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